Thursday August 28, 2014

Highs and lows of provincial budget


Most government budgets have highs and lows. So with that in mind, here is some food for thought on the Wall government’s 2014-15 budget.

First, thumbs up to the government for not raising school property taxes. The Premier had mused about raising school taxes and then giving the money to municipalities to spend on roads, bridges and other things; we’re glad he backed away from that idea.

Taxing people in the name of “education” only to spend the money on roads makes no sense. Thankfully, the government is going to continue to go after wasteful and inefficient spending rather than take the easy way out and raise taxes.

On that note, overall spending will decrease slightly from last year’s budget so thumbs up for that uncommon feat as well. Kudos to Minister Krawetz for having the courage to say “no” to many special interest groups who asked for funding for this, that or the other thing.

The government also gets praise for not raising any other taxes. Often when governments say things are ‘tight’ – as the Wall government did – they end up raising alcohol and tobacco taxes or nickel and diming people through other means. That doesn’t seem to be the case so good work on that front as well.

Fiscally speaking, it’s also nice to see the government turning their attention to the big picture. The government is focusing on a more complete financial picture of the province’s finances rather than just one part; a part that has been manipulated by both parties in the past to look good.

Next, while the government’s budget is balanced, it once again depends on crown profits to keep the government in the black. Take the surpluses of SaskTel, SaskPower, SaskEnergy and Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) out of the picture and the government’s $71 million surplus is actually a $106.6 million deficit. Ideally the government should be able to balance the books without depending on those crowns.

If you look at the numbers more closely you’ll find the government is taking $206 million from the crowns this year (we’re told SaskPower is not included in this ‘dividend’) and will spend it on day-to-day government operations.

So while the government didn’t raise your education property taxes, SaskEnergy has been raising rates, SGI has applied to raise rates and SaskTel has raised Internet rates by $5 per month increase. Those increases will contribute to profits that in turn make their way into government coffers.

Make no mistake, this is nothing new in Saskatchewan. The raiding of crown profits has gone on for years and happened under the NDP as well. Ideally, the government would look at reforming the crowns and get away from this practice.

Finally, probably the best news is that debt repayments over the past several years means annual interest costs have been reduced by a whopping $55 million. That’s $55 million that can now be used each year for health care, education and fixing roads rather than going to the big banks and bond holders. It’s also $55 million the government doesn’t need to collect each year from Sask taxpayers.

There are plenty of other good and not-so good things in the budget. But hopefully the aforementioned tidbits have provided some food for thought.



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